Lilleshall: Growth of settlement

A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.

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'Lilleshall: Growth of settlement', in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985) pp. 147-151. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]


Until the late 18th century the population was concentrated in the villages of Lilleshall, Honnington, Muxton, and Donnington. There were 22 recorded inhabitants in 1086. (fn. 1) By the early 14th century growth had been considerable. There were c. 145 free tenants c. 1337 as well as neifs and the landless. Donnington had 33 per cent of the free tenants, Lilleshall 27 per cent, Honnington 22 per cent, and Muxton 18 per cent. (fn. 2) Population collapsed at the Black Death (fn. 3) and had not fully recovered by 1563, when there were 84 households. (fn. 4) Industrialization, mainly at Donnington Wood, caused the population to rise. In 1676 the Compton census recorded 428 adults. (fn. 5) There were c. 200 houses by 1772, (fn. 6) 2,060 inhabitants in 1801, and 3,987 by 1851. Thereafter there was little growth until the mid 20th century when Donnington was deliberately transformed by housing development. The population of Lilleshall civil parish rose from 2,611 in 1931 to 8,005 in 1951. (fn. 7) From the 1960s Muxton, Donnington, and Donnington Wood, as parts of Telford new town, expanded further, but more gradually. Lilleshall C.P. had 10,900 inhabitants in 1971, but by 1981 only 10,470 people lived within the 1971 boundary. (fn. 8)

17th- Century Lilleshall

The earliest surviving domestic buildings in the four ancient villages are nearly all timber-framed, but in the late 18th century timber gave way to brick or, in a few surviving examples, stone. A certain uniformity is apparent in the well built farms and Leveson-Gower estate cottages erected in the north and east parts of the parish in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many industrial houses, including several large blocks or 'barracks', were built in the south-west in the later 18th and earlier 19th century by Earl Gower & Co. and its successors. Less spacious and substantial than the estate cottages, few of them were fit for habitation in the 20th century, when nearly all were replaced by council houses. After the demolition of the Old Lodge in the 19th century, the parish possessed no house of notable size or distinction.

The neighbourhood of Lilleshall Hill, the hill from which the parish took its name, (fn. 9) was settled by 963, when Headford brook was the boundary between Church Aston and the 'lil sæte'. (fn. 10) By the 16th century the church and most of the village's houses lay along a street (called Church Road by 1959) (fn. 11) below the hill's south-eastern flank. The street is linked at each end to the Wellington- Newport road. In 1585 a fire, which began at the south end, destroyed 14 houses, then the greater part of the village, and reached at least as far as the church. (fn. 12) In 1983 several houses seemed to date from the rebuilding after the fire. (fn. 13) Until the 19th century the street ended at the south in a triangular space whence two short lanes led west to Newport and Muxton via the Wellington- Newport road, and another ran south-eastwards to the abbey. In 1717 a water mill lay on the triangle's east side and houses on the other sides. (fn. 14) About 1810 the roads out of that space were closed: that leading to the abbey was taken farther south, and the village street was extended southwards to join it east of Honnington pool. The former open space and mill pond were then mostly absorbed into the grounds of the Hall. (fn. 15)

Few houses lay immediately north of the church in 1717, but farther north, in the southern half of Limekiln Lane (which continued the village street northwards), there were houses associated with the limeworks. They did not reach as far north as the junction with Willmore Lane, (fn. 16) but by 1804 houses had been built from that junction northwards along Limekiln Lane, to within about 250 metres of its junction with the Newport-Wellington road. (fn. 17) The new houses are likely to have been associated with an expansion of limeworking. Lilleshall Barracks were built c. 1810 on the western edge of the Collier's Side limestone quarry, and linked to the Wellington- Newport road by a new lane (fn. 18) (called Barracks Lane by 1959). (fn. 19) The barracks formed a row of 12 single-storeyed brick houses, with a wash house at each end and in the centre. The last occupant left in 1947 (fn. 20) and the buildings were demolished c. 1965. (fn. 21) A smaller block farther along the lane, called the Nook, was built by 1813. (fn. 22) By 1979 it had been converted into one house. (fn. 23)

By 1804 the base of Lilleshall Hill was ringed by some 15 houses, all built since 1717 on the waste. (fn. 24) By 1841 there were over 20, occupied by agricultural labourers, miners, and people in other humble occupations. (fn. 25)

The settlement pattern at Lilleshall was little changed after the early 1800s. In the 1850s eight stone houses called Limeworks (or Stone) Row were built near the limeworks; (fn. 26) they were still occupied in 1980. By 1851, however, the works was employing fewer men, and employed gradually fewer until it closed. (fn. 27) There was hardly any more building on new sites until 1922, when six council houses were completed in Limekiln Lane. (fn. 28) The Woodlands council estate (18 houses) was completed in 1949 in Barracks Lane, (fn. 29) and another called Rock Acres (20 houses) in 1955 south-west of the church. (fn. 30) In 1965 more council houses were begun in Limekiln Lane, (fn. 31) and by 1980 some small private housing schemes had been carried out, mostly in and next to Limekiln Lane, but one (Church Meadow) immediately north-east of the church.

Honnington lies on the Wellington-Newport road where the lanes from the south end of Lilleshall formerly joined the road. The settlement existed by the 1270s, (fn. 32) and by 1404 was sometimes accounted a separate township. (fn. 33) In 1539 Honnington had more cottage holdings than any other township, and they formed a higher proportion of all its holdings than in any other township. (fn. 34) It therefore seems likely that most of the inhabitants lived by working part-time on the nearby home grange. Honnington declined between 1539 and 1717, perhaps because of the trend away from arable towards livestock; (fn. 35) the home grange needed fewer workers. By 1717 Honnington comprised merely one large farm and a few cottages. (fn. 36)

Muxton existed by 1186. (fn. 37) In 1717 it lay almost wholly in two neighbouring settlements. (fn. 38) The main group of houses extended c. 200 metres along Muxton Lane, which ran south-eastwards from the Wellington-Newport road. A few houses lay along a small western fork off the street (called Laneside by 1959). (fn. 39) The other settlement stretched some 250 metres along the main road either side of its junction with Muxton Lane. Westwards the houses reached nearly to Donnington. Eastwards the main-road settlement had been extended towards Honnington by 1804, (fn. 40) and by 1881 had reached the Haybrook. (fn. 41) In the 1950s new private houses along the road to Wellington extended far enough west to connect Muxton and Donnington. (fn. 42) There was otherwise little building on new sites before the 1960s, except as in-filling. By 1975, as part of Telford's development, a great many houses were built south of the main road on vacant land flanking the north end of Muxton Lane, both east (Sutherland Drive and its branches) and west (Fieldhouse Drive and its branches). Near the lane's southern end Granville Drive was added on the east. (fn. 43)

Donnington was mentioned c. 1180 (fn. 44) and by 1539 was the most populous township, having 14 'able' men for the militia, against 11 in Lilleshall and 8 in Muxton. (fn. 45) In 1717 many of the houses stood close together along the Wellington-Newport road, from near Donnington Farm westwards to the junction with what was later School Road. Just as many houses stood in winding back lanes close to the main street. (fn. 46) Until the 1930s the pattern did not change. (fn. 47)

From 1931 to 1937 an estate of 118 council houses (named Jubilee Avenue in 1935) (fn. 48) was completed at Donnington on the south side of the Wellington-Newport road, west of the old village. (fn. 49) All but the first 10 were built for people from unfit dwellings in Donnington Wood and Lilleshall. (fn. 50) In 1939 council housing at Donnington for local people was postponed to meet the needs of incoming civilian employees at the Central Ordnance Depot, newly established there. Between 1940 (fn. 51) and 1944 (fn. 52) the council completed 844 houses for them (fn. 53) on land south of the Wellington-Newport road, from Jubilee Avenue westwards to the parish boundary. The development was first called New Donnington (fn. 54) but later simply Donnington. (fn. 55) From 1951 to 1954 a further 258 council houses were added to the part of New Donnington east of Wrekin Drive. (fn. 56) Development went as far east as the site of the former Donnington Barracks (fn. 57) (renamed School Road in 1951) (fn. 58) and as far south as the eastern part (named Queen Street in 1952, and later Queen's Road) of Oakengates Road, where unfit houses were cleared away. A few of the houses were reserved for incoming skilled workers, but most were allocated to local people. All but the first 36, in School Road, were prefabricated. Having thus reached the northern margin of the Donnington Wood area, where derelict workings made building difficult, New Donnington ceased to expand so easily and attention was turned to its internal development. (fn. 59) In the late 1960s, however, the estate began to grow southwards as part of Telford. (fn. 60)

After the Second World War the War Department created an estate for army personnel northeast of the Central Ordnance Depot. (fn. 61) In 1951 there were 2,137 such people living at Donnington. (fn. 62)

Until the late 18th century Donnington wood remained a large block of ancient woodland southwest of Donnington, with some small and dispersed settlements on its western side. (fn. 63) One of them, Quam Pool (mentioned in 1345), (fn. 64) lay partly in Wrockwardine Wood. (fn. 65) From the late 18th century to the early 19th Earl Gower & Co. and its successors converted the woodland piecemeal to pits and works. Company housing was put up next to the scattered undertakings (fn. 66) and Donnington Wood (as the whole development was known) therefore had no natural focus. Its only coherence was in its inhabitants' dependence on the company. Workers' barrack blocks were nevertheless sometimes large enough to foster distinct communities. The biggest were Waxhill Barracks (built by 1804), (fn. 67) with 27 dwellings, (fn. 68) and Donnington Barracks, with some 67 (fn. 69) (mostly built c. 1810). (fn. 70) Both communities formed dissenting congregations (fn. 71) and Donnington Barracks proved to be a centre of industrial unrest in 1842. (fn. 72) Granville Buildings, built in the mid 19th century, consisted of 40 dwellings. (fn. 73)

When Donnington Wood's industries declined in the later 19th century, new houses were not built and many existing ones became unfit. Most of Waxhill Barracks was demolished between 1880 and 1901 (fn. 74) and the rest of it in the 1930s, when Donnington Barracks and other unfit houses were also cleared. (fn. 75) Redevelopment was deterred by the terrain of derelict mines but by 1983 the waste areas had been improved by landscaping.

Pain's Lane, represented in 1980 by Duke Street, St. George's, was mentioned in 1592. (fn. 76) It lay in the south-west corner of the parish, and ran NNE. for some 225 metres from Watling Street to the edge of Donnington wood. (fn. 77) Cottages existed there by 1650, (fn. 78) and in 1717 it was flanked by houses and yards. (fn. 79) In 1816 the settlement on Pain's Lane had kept the character of a village street (fn. 80) but later in the century it developed outside Lilleshall parish to become the industrial hamlet of St. George's. (fn. 81)


  • 1. V.C.H. Salop. i. 314.
  • 2. S.P.L., Deeds 16329.
  • 3. Below, Econ. Hist. (Agric.).
  • 4. B.L. Harl. MS. 594, f. 161v.
  • 5. T.S.A.S. 2nd ser. i. 84.
  • 6. L.J.R.O., B/V/5, visit. return of 1772.
  • 7. V.C.H. Salop. ii. 224.
  • 8. Figs. compiled in S.C.C. Planning Dept.
  • 9. E. Ekwall, Concise Oxf. Dict. Eng. P.N. (4th edn.), 298.
  • 10. Cart. Sax. ed. Birch, iii, no. 1119; T.S.A.S. lvi. 29.
  • 11. O.S. Map 6", SJ 71 SW. (1967 edn.).
  • 12. T.S.A.S. iii. 301; Salopian Shreds & Patches, iv. 37.
  • 13. Dept. of Environment, List of Bldgs.: Dist. of Wrekin (1983), pp. 145-7 (copy in S.C.C. Planning Dept.).
  • 14. S.R.O. 38/15; 972, parcel 234, middle map of Lilleshall.
  • 15. S.R.O. 38/15; 972, parcel 238, map of 1813.
  • 16. S.R.O. 972, parcel 234, middle map of Lilleshall.
  • 17. S.R.O. 38/15.
  • 18. Ibid.; 972, parcel 238, map of 1813.
  • 19. O.S. Map 6", SJ 71 NW. (1968 edn.).
  • 20. Adams and Hazeley, Survey, 38.
  • 21. Shropshire Mag. Apr. 1965, 40.
  • 22. S.R.O. 972, parcel 238, map of 1813.
  • 23. Adams and Hazeley, Survey, 38.
  • 24. S.R.O. 38/15; 972, parcel 234, middle map of Lilleshall.
  • 25. S.P.L., abstr. of census, 1841 (TS. [1975]).
  • 26. Ibid. 1851, 1861 (TSS. [1975]).
  • 27. Ibid. 1841-71 (TSS. [1975]).
  • 28. S.R.O., DA 23/114/1, pp. 136, 174.
  • 29. S.R.O., DA 26/114/4, p. 888.
  • 30. Ibid. /114/6, p. 1747.
  • 31. Adams and Hazeley, Survey, 35-6.
  • 32. S.R.O. 972, box 220, deed of 1270 X 1275.
  • 33. S.P.L., MS. 4426.
  • 34. P.R.O., LR 2/184, ff. 4-13v.
  • 35. Below, Econ. Hist. (Agric.).
  • 36. S.R.O. 38/15; 972, parcel 234, middle map of Lilleshall; O.S. Map 6", Salop. XXXVI. NE. (1928 edn.).
  • 37. Eyton, viii. 232.
  • 38. S.R.O. 972, parcel 234, middle map of Lilleshall.
  • 39. Names recorded on O.S. Map 6", SJ 71 SW. (1967 edn.).
  • 40. S.R.O. 38/15.
  • 41. O.S. Map 6", Salop. XXXVI. NE. (1890 edn.).
  • 42. O.S. Maps 1/25,000, SJ 71 (1951 edn.); 6", SJ 71 SW. (1967 edn.).
  • 43. T.D.C. Telford Street Plan and Guide (1975).
  • 44. Eyton, viii. 229.
  • 45. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), p. 288. The Lilleshall fig. presumably included Honnington.
  • 46. S.R.O. 972, parcel 234, middle map of Lilleshall.
  • 47. S.R.O. 38/15; O.S. Map 6", Salop. XXXVI. NE. (1890, 1903, and 1928 edns.).
  • 48. S.R.O., DA 23/114/3, p. 102.
  • 49. Ibid. /114/2, pp. 176, 226; /114/3, pp. 64, 91, 101, 106; DA 26/100/7, p. 312.
  • 50. S.R.O., DA 23/114/3, pp. 68, 72; DA 26/100/7, p. 220.
  • 51. A. H. Fernyhough, Hist. of Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945 (R.A.O.C. [1967]), 409, 411.
  • 52. S.R.O., DA 26/114/2, p. 344.
  • 53. V. Shore, 'Survey of Donnington' (TS. 1962), p. 2 (copy in S.P.L.).
  • 54. O.S. Map 1/25,000, SJ 71 (1951 edn.).
  • 55. O.S. Map 6", SJ 71 SW. (1967 edn.).
  • 56. S.R.O., DA 26/114/5, pp. 1172, 1316, 1404, 1559.
  • 57. Ibid. /114/4, p. 978.
  • 58. Ibid. p. 1164.
  • 59. Ibid. /114/5, pp. 1222, 1367, 1417, 1535-6, 1546-7, 1557, 1570-2.
  • 60. O.S. Map 6", SJ 71 SW. (1967 edn.); T.D.C. Telford Street Plan and Guide (1975).
  • 61. O.S. Maps 1/25,000, SJ 71 (1951 edn.); 6", SJ 71 SW. (1967 edn.).
  • 62. K. C. Riley, 'Changes in Population in the Wellington- Oakengates Conurbation 1801-1951' (London Univ. M.A. thesis, 1958), 175.
  • 63. S.R.O. 972, parcel 234, middle map of Lilleshall.
  • 64. Ibid. box 225, deed.
  • 65. Below, Wrockwardine Wood, intro.
  • 66. S.R.O. 972, parcel 233, Lilleshall map of 1816.
  • 67. S.R.O. 38/15.
  • 68. Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. 316.
  • 69. S.R.O., DA 26/100/7, p. 220.
  • 70. S.R.O. 38/15; 972, parcel 238, map of 1813.
  • 71. Below, Prot. Nonconf.
  • 72. Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. 390.
  • 73. W. Howard Williams, 'Lilleshall Co. Hist. 1802-1966' (TS. [c. 1966]), p. 7 (copy in S.R.O. 3072/1).
  • 74. O.S. Map 6", Salop. XXXVI. NE. (1890 and 1903 edns.).
  • 75. S.R.O., DA 23/114/3, p. 72; DA 26/100/7, pp. 217, 220; /114/2, p. 27.
  • 76. S.R.O. 38/101.
  • 77. S.R.O. 972 parcel 234, map of Lilleshall pk. etc.; parcel 242, map of c. 1642.
  • 78. P. R. Edwards, 'Farming Econ. of NE. Salop. in 17th Cent.' (Oxf. Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1976), 267.
  • 79. S.R.O. 972, parcel 234, map of Lilleshall pk. etc.
  • 80. Ibid. parcel 233, Lilleshall map.
  • 81. Below, Wombridge; Wrockwardine Wood.